Konrad Becker on Thu, 26 Sep 2002 15:53:22 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> [Dark Markets] : New Media and Dark Ages

[this is part of a paper on some of the issues discussed at "Dark
Markets" strategic conference, it will appear in the next issue of the
Austrian publication "Kulturrisse". K]

* * * * *

New Media and Dark Ages

Post-modernized helplessness with bourgeois disorientation in
neo-liberal markets achieves a lasting atmosphere of lack of
perspectives that not only successfully hinders democratic development
but above all suffocates interest in the political itself. The
wide-ranging confusion and resignation after the 9-11 outbreak of the
world war against "terror" is related to the inability of left world
views to deal with the polycentricism and hypercontextuality of the new
world. Even if utopias are not highly traded items these days and
stagnation is inflationary, this is not yet the end of history....

Independent of the systems of social order, neither the model of the
cynical liberty in democratic capitalism nor the agony of powerless
equality in "real" socialism seems a valid answer to questions of
liberty, equality and human dignity; also the statement, that society
would, if only left to its spontaneous self run, due to technological
innovations result in a development of equality and prosperity, is long
disproved as a lie. These automatisms neither neutral nor natural, but
historically caused follow the principle that private profit has
priority above any social interest. This is the key in the entire set of
rules of social relations, which also shows up in the info sphere and in
aggressive colonizing of the Internet by multinational economic groups
of interests. Although typically the strongest innovations of the net
world were originally developed outside of competitive commercial
market,(like the Internet itself, or also the most common search machine
Google), the democratic development of the technology of a
knowledge-based society is surrendered to the "invisible hands" of dark

However after the parting of socialism a fundamental dispute on
democratic capitalism has been missing and the critique of high-tech
neo-liberalisms of the traditional Left is insufficient. Although, for
example Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, in a well-known text, unveil
the "California ideology" as political construct, their models appear
hopelessly old-fashioned. It serves to show the helplessness of the
traditional instruments of left politics to grasp the logic of
intellectualized work in the network of pancapitalism. It seems that the
established power structures know to use the new paradigms and
technologies of knowledge based society often better than their critics.
The distrust of traditionalists against new starting points of thought
expresses itself in biting polemics against techno-nomadic thinking and
of Deleuze and Guattari as "Neo-liberalisms for Hippies". But this
conservative gesture of refusal towards all attempts to develop a critic
at the height of time also prevents the emergence of new forms of
resistance against incapacitating the subject in semio-capitalism.
Therefore Franco Berardi Bifo, one the early theorists and pioneers of
new media in the social context, pleads for a "critic of the everyday
life", in which the effects of information networks and conditions of
the intellectualized work are sufficiently considered.

The conception that democratic rule is not to be regarded and does not
count as rule has tradition, but unfortunately the use of majorities
against fundamental human rights is no exception, also in western
democracies. Abuse based on majority votes undermines confidence in
majority decisions. Emancipation in the democratic age therefore also
means protection from democratization as the power of others to impair
or patronize the individual. And this is why a political position always
existed, that aims to limit and to cut back power. The world-wide
attention that the book "Empire" received can be explained with a
general lack of an emancipatory critic of hegemonic dominance that takes
into account changed social conditions. Even if it has been criticized
for staying close to classic Marxist tradition, the necessity of new
viewpoints and conceptualizations like "Multitude" nevertheless becomes
clear. It is increasingly necessary to analyze contemporary capitalism
as semiotic stream, to relocate the tasks of critic and to identify new
possibilities of transformation and influence that put to use existing

"For a generation of young technologists that have been indoctrinated
into the religion of markets and the stockholder theory of value - and
now it's all gone kablooey, they don't know what to do or what to
believe." Paulina Borsook, author of the book "Cyberselfish" on the rise
and fall of Silicon Valley, compares our times with the Dark Ages:
Societal development has broken down completely. Technology was lost,
invention mattered less and less, and alien kleptocrats creamed off
societal wealth of generations in the making. Old knowledge was
forgotten and there wasn't much space for the creation of the new. The
very rich became very much richer, everyone else became poorer while
various barbarian tribes and warlords ransacked and impoverished what
remained of civilization. Borsook identifies the marauding hordes of
those times with the transnational business of today. She compares
Microsoft to what Christianity became in Byzantine time, the brutally
state-imposed religion that tied people to their occupations and their
land so their work and lives could never change. "Technology has gone
out of fashion altogether, rather like the passing of the vogue for
sensible philosophies such as Stoicism or Epicureanism." 

In search for an advancement of emancipatory politics the historian and
political scientist Christoph Spehr in particular asks questions about
the conditions and the promotion of free co-operation in self determined
spaces and relations. According to Spehr, author of the book "Die Aliens
sind unter uns"(The Aliens are Among Us), we are in reality the victims
of a genetic colonization of an Alien species, programmed to take over
the democratic structures after the age of personalized rule. "It is the
experience that people look at first sight like normal humans, as you
and me, but follow a hostile program, which proves them as a member of
an alien species; their solidarity does not belong to you, but another
order. They only look like humans. In reality they are Aliens". Their
only goal is the continuation of control as dominant group, their
program the appropriation of other nature and work.  According to Spehr,
the model of colonization of the Aliens for all modern social order
systems between capitalism and socialism is the same. He describes them
as new international class that advances a domination project and
establishes this rule in democratic systems through civilians. The
civilians are essentially steered by comfort and defined as "someone,
who does not have a clue, is not interested in how things work, has no
problem that decisions are made by others, and which does not even
possess the necessary abilities to intervene". The Rebels and the
"Maquis" stand in conflict to the rule of the Aliens. The Rebels, global
informed postmodern collectives, fight against the Empire, but are not
necessarily dedicated to emancipaton and do not look not for an
alternative logic of social relations.

The zone of the Maquis however does not follow the principle of profit
and comfort and its social co-operation is based on continuously
advanced release from rule and alien regulation. The media practice of
the Maquis counters alienistic control of the public, its spaces and
media. It refers to forms of networking and consciousness-raising and
the promotion of direct, complex structures with which the vital
dependence on alien interpretation and appreciation can be reduced and
thus the potential for blackmail. The finishing sentence of the book
expresses it as follows: "it is the work of the Maquis to give to the
post-modern collectives the ability to, as Fox Mulder calls it, believe
in "extreme possibilities". A world without Aliens, for example."

In the paper "A Virtual World is Possible" Geert Lovink and Florian
Schneider sketch the phases of global movements "From Tactical Media to
Digital Multitudes". They describe first the 90s as a bloom time for
tactical media: emancipatory currents and cheaply available
do-it-yourself equipment allowed creating original digital styles and an
era of various and self-confident experiments that made possible
alliances between art, activism and popular culture. In the time of 1999
to 01, the period of the large mobilizations, the convergence of
world-wide organized discontent against neo-liberalisms and against
exploitation, added a new layer of a globalizing "from below" to the
hierarchical globalization "from above ". Although these new movements
were primarily expressed in the somewhat traditional medium of the
street protest nevertheless the buildup and the integration into a
network of tactical media was a necessary precondition. These new
co-operation forms without hierarchical monolithic structures and a
variety of topics and identities represent an important development. In
the academification of leftist theory the brilliance of the everyday
experience and the forms of new subjectivity was lost dramatically, but
state-sponsored privatization of the world in the hands of untouchable
firm networks concerns everyone and resistance need not be ideologically
or altruistically justified. The structural violence in democratic
high-tech capitalism is not only directed against those, who are
excluded from this high-tech production cycle, the majority of mankind,
but also against those, who are enclosed in the informational market
cycle and exposed to increasing psychological pressure and an increasing
depletion of their work and life-environment.

For the present Lovink and Schneider see the danger of moral
self-marginalizing as one of the most substantial challenges. Both the
real and the virtual protests are in danger to be stuck on the level of
global "demo design" and no longer grounded in actual situations. That
would mean that development never goes beyond "beta".  Street
demonstrations raise solidarity levels and spirits, but the question
must be, what comes next... both for the new media and the new social
movements. Instead of "reconciliation" between the material and virtual
they demand the rigorous integration and implementation of social
movements in technology and the necessity of implementing strategies,
interfaces and standards. 

As a substantial characteristic concepts of openness and freedom develop
that are expressed in the dialectics of open source software, "open
knowledge", Peer-2-Peer and the Digital Commons. However, this concept
of liberty is no concession to neo-liberal ideology but refers to the
democratization of access, decision-making and the distribution of
knowledge and prosperity. Despite the compromising of electronic media
by profit sharks and control freaks the outcome of some battles is still
open. For good reasons Napster has been labeled the Viet Nam of the
music industry...  Electronic information networks are therefore still
carriers of hope for an emancipatory information society and of a
Cultural Intelligence for the Multitudes....

* * * * *

Public Netbase:  http://darkmarkets.t0.or.at/ 

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